The defending world champion, Lewis Hamilton, suffered a five-second timed penalty during the Formula One season opener after colliding with Red Bull’s Alexander Albon – but was it necessary?
With actions reminiscent of that in Brazil’s Grand Prix last year, Lewis Hamilton received yet another five-second penalty last Sunday after he banged tyres with Red Bull’s young driver, Alexander Albon.
So what happened?
After the third and final safety car of the opening race, during lap 61, Albon attempted an overtake on Hamilton at turn four. This overtake looked inevitable to happen at some point in the race, due to the Thai drivers new, fresh soft compound tyres compared to the Briton’s old and used hard tyres.
However, Hamilton ran wide as Albon edged out in front on the exit which resulted in the Mercedes colliding with the rear right tyres of the Red Bull. This sent the youngster into the gravel trap and dropped him from third to last on the grid of – then – 13 drivers.
On the first watch of the incident, it seemed like Hamilton purposefully went wide to sabotage the, relatively new, driver from making a successful overtake on a six-time world champion. However, after re-watching it and looking at the on-boards, it looked more of a racing incident rather than an malicious attack on the Red Bull driver.
As I watched the on-board of Hamilton’s Mercedes, he locked his steering to the right as he entered the corner, meaning he couldn’t steer any further into that direction. In a contradiction, as he saw the Red Bull pull up beside him, he could of allowed the Red Bull through by releasing the accelerator.
However, due to the nature of the sport, Hamilton would have wanted to get the best possible exit and speed out of the corner. But, in releasing the accelerator – to allow Albon to pass, he could become vulnerable to the drivers trailing the Red Bull, potentially losing more than just one position in the process.
From Albon’s perspective, his frustration is understandable. Hamilton, in the Brazilian Grand Prix (2019), was the same driver who threw away the chance of getting his first podium in F1. When the Mercedes driver went for a overtake on the inside line which closed faster than he could respond, which resulted in the driver getting spun around in a similar fashion.
However, watching the replay once again, Albon was on the edge of the red and white kerb at the time of the contact between the two drivers. If he had gotten himself further onto the kerb, there was a chance this incident could have been avoided. He would of allowed Hamilton enough room and would have still been able to challenge the Finnish Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas, for the race win with his fresh soft tyres.
However, these decisions on track, have to be made within milliseconds and ultimately, the stewards decided on the five-second penalty – which, most likely, will not be appealed by Mercedes or Hamilton. Despite this, in my opinion, I believe this to be a racing incident where neither driver was at fault, just two very competitive drivers getting their elbows out to fight for track position.